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Meet Asia’s Saber-Toothed Deer

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Why grow antlers when you can have fangs? People normally associate “saber teeth” with bloodthirsty ice age cats, but a few modern critters also have them—including some rather docile herbivores.

Meet the musk deer family (aka: the Moschidae). To date, seven species have been identified, all of which hail from Asia—though the fossil record reveals that their prehistoric kin once roamed Europe and North America as well. Also, largely due to their lack of antlers, these guys aren’t technically considered deer, despite their common name.

In lieu of headgear, the animals have evolved some ferocious-looking canines. Males boast a pair of curved tusks protruding from their upper jaws, which are used to ward off rivals once mating season heats up. But it’s a very different anatomical feature that’s used for wooing the fairer sex.

“Musk” deer are so called because of an unusual gland located near the males’ hindquarters. These sacs secrete a pungent chemical that’s sprayed liberally throughout their territories. Females find the odor utterly tantalizing, and—sadly—so do poachers. Humans have long been using this substance, the potent scent of which is even documented in the Quran. Hailed a beguiling aphrodisiac and an effective medicinal ingredient, moschid musk is “one of the most valuable products in the natural kingdom and can be worth three times its weight in gold,” says conservationist Stuart Chapman. While it’s possible to “milk” live specimens, hunters prefer killing these animals before removing their glands entirely. Due to this regrettable practice, most species are now endangered.

Intriguingly, a completely different variety of fanged, deer-like mammal also resides in Asia. The Chinese water deer (Hydropotes inermis) is a beagle-sized herbivore that’s been known to swim for miles on end in search of food and shelter in the wetlands it calls home. During the 1800s, they were introduced to England and subsequently began spreading through the British countryside as well.

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This Octopus Species in Northern Australia Can Hunt on Dry Land
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Most octopuses live in the ocean—but in northern Australia, a small, shallow-water species takes to land in search of food. Abdopus aculeatus is the only octopus that’s specially adapted to walk on dry ground. Using its long, sucker-lined arms, the slimy sea creature pulls itself along the shoreline as it searches tide pools for crabs.

Witness Abdopus aculeatus in action by watching BBC Earth’s video below.

[h/t BBC Earth]

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Weather Watch
Rising Temperatures Are Killing Off African Wild Dogs
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Over the last few decades, images of fluffy white harp seals, polar bears, and penguins have become shorthand for climate change's creeping destruction of our planet. But the poles aren't the only ecosystems in danger. A new study published in the Journal of Animal Ecology finds that rising temperatures near the equator are making it much harder for African wild dogs to survive.

"When people think about climate change affecting wildlife, they mostly think about polar bears," lead researcher Rosie Woodroffe of the Zoological Society of London told The Guardian. "But wild dogs are adapted to the heat—surely they'd be fine."

To find out, Woodroffe and her colleagues analyzed data from packs of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) in Kenya, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. The dog packs have been under scientist surveillance for years—some since the late 1980s—and at least one dog per pack is fitted with a radio collar.

The researchers overlaid information about local weather and temperature with data on the dogs' hunting habits, the size of each litter of pups, and how many pups from each litter survived.

These dogs are creatures of habit. Adults rise early and leave the den for a morning hunt. They range over their large territories, chasing antelopes. At midday, when the Sun is highest, they return to their pups with food. They may go out again in the evening as the temperature drops.

But like the polar bears' glaciers, the dogs' environment is gradually heating up. All three countries saw a temperature increase of about 1.8°F over the study period. This may not sound like much, but for the dogs, it was plenty. Between 1989 and 2012, the number of pups per litter in Botswana surviving to their first birthday dropped from 5.1 to 3.3. Dog packs in Zimbabwe saw a 14 percent decrease in pup survival; in Kenya, the rate declined by 31 percent.

"It's really scary," Woodroffe said.

"If you are an animal who makes your living by running around really fast, obviously you are going to get hot. But there are not enough hours in the day anymore that are cool enough to do that. It is possible that some of these big areas will become too hot for wild dogs to exist."

Woodroffe and her colleagues were not anticipating such clear-cut results. "It is shocking and surprising that even right on the equator these effects are being seen," she said. "It illustrates the global impact of climate change." 

[h/t The Guardian]


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